In 2009, Patrick Deem spent an academic year in Egypt on the NSLI-Y program. His interest in the Middle East grew from a combination of factors. Patrick’s grandfather was Egyptian, but he never had the chance to meet him as his mother was adopted. This aspect of his heritage had always intrigued him. He also saw many conflicting news stories about the region and wanted to experience it for himself.
He was initially surprised both by how different and similar the U.S. and Egypt were. For example, there were shopping malls and his Egyptian friends listened to American music. At the same time, Ramadan was completely new to Patrick. He also had very little understanding of Arabic and had a difficult time communicating. The language barrier served as a powerful motivator to study, however. “I could go a year without a social life, or I could learn Arabic.” He worked hard in language class and put in many hours of study and practice to be able to communicate with those around him.
Another challenge Patrick believes every study abroad student faces to some degree is homesickness. Embracing the experience and throwing himself into his studies and daily activities helped significantly. He also turned to his teachers and NSLI-Y staff for support. “It was very helpful to know that what I was feeling was completely normal.” Also, knowing that his friends and family could be contacted through phone or internet helped him feel close to them despite the physical distance.
Patrick says his NSLI-Y experience helped him become deeply and personally invested in Arabic and the Middle East, which provided crucial motivation to persevere in language study in college. After his NSLI-Y program, he attended Georgetown University for a BA in Middle Eastern Studies with a focus on economics. During his time at Georgetown, Patrick participated in the Critical Language Scholarship in Tunisia to study Arabic. He also attended a university in France for a year where he studied Middle Eastern politics and economics in French and Arabic.
Patrick also believes that NSLI-Y accelerated his academic and career path. If it were not for his NSLI-Y experience, he does not believe he would have been able to land an internship as an undergraduate student in the Middle East and North Africa Office of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In this position, he noticed that he possessed a unique set of cultural and language skills that positioned him to be able to research Islamic finance, a topic that had not received much attention in the office up to that point. The following summer, he interned in the Economics Section of the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca with the U.S. Department of State. There, he had the opportunity to work with government officials on diplomatic cables addressing Morocco’s efforts in urban redevelopment as well as the more general labor economics of Morocco.
After graduating from Georgetown, Patrick began working for McKinsey & Company as a Business Analyst in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The language and cultural skills he had cultivated beginning with NSLI-Y proved to be indispensable in his work with McKinsey in the Middle East. With time, he began to feel a desire to become involved in social impact work. This led to him becoming an Advisor for Strategic Programs with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). “The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future” (www.rescue.org). Patrick works on a team that seeks to implement the new organizational strategy to make the IRC an operational and thought leader in the humanitarian field. He is currently working in Jordan on refugee programs.
Patrick’s advice to those considering programs like NSLI-Y is: “Just go. While there are always concerns of one kind or another, things tend to work out and the experience will change the course of your life.”